Packing a daily lunchbox for your little one, or for yourself, can seem like such a chore. Here are some ideas for healthy lunch boxes to help you make sure you’re getting in the good stuff!
One of the first choices you need to make is whether your child will have ‘school dinners’ or a home packed lunch. In the UK, Key Stage 1 meals are provided… but do check out your school meals to see how healthy they are. There are huge varieties between schools. Of course, there are pros and cons to both choices, a hot school dinner gives you less to think about in the morning/ Whilst a packed lunch gives you more control over what and how much your child is eating.
Packing your child a healthy lunch box can a surprisingly tough job for a parent. If it’s too healthy, and they’ll send half of it home uneaten. But load it with white bread, biscuits, crisps and a sugary drink, and their lunchbox quickly becomes a cocktail of sugar, salt and refined carbs… Perfect for poor attention, bad behaviour and lack of essential nutrients.
Here are my 10 top tips and ideas for healthy lunch boxes.
Make every sandwich a surprise! Ham and cheese on white bread may be a lunchbox classic but it’s loaded with saturated fat and salt. Try different fillings that include some protein, such as egg mayo, tuna and sweetcorn, peanut butter and cucumber, cottage cheese and prawns, or even oatcakes and vegetable sticks with hummus. Vary your breads to add interest – try wholemeal pittas, tortilla wraps, 50/50 bread or even double decker sandwiches for bigger appetites. If you have time, you can also cut different shapes out of your bread, a great way to tempt most fussy eaters.
Pack up a mini picnic – If you have a really fussy eater, give them tempting nibbles packed into little containers. Strips of chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, chopped up cucumber, baby corn, a mini pot of hummus and strips of pitta bread are all winners in the healthy lunch box lotto!
Make changes gradually– Children are creatures of habit and most don’t take well to radical changes overnight! Instead, gradually make changes over a few weeks – swap crisps for cherry tomatoes or fruit one week, chocolate for a healthy homemade flapjack the next, white bread to 50/50 and over time to wholemeal.
Don’t forget the fruit and veg – All children should be eating at least 5 fruit and vegetables every day – so use their lunchbox to get at least two of these in. Don’t rely on a shrivelled up apple or banana… make fruit and veg fun! Try chopped up vegetable sticks or apple pieces and a mini pot of hummus or cream cheese. Or mini fruit kebabs made with cocktail sticks and a variety of colourful fruits.
Avoid hidden sugars – Lunchbox staples such as fromage frais or yoghurt tend to be loaded with hidden sugar. A few brands are finally edging into the supermarkets that don’t contain added sugar, such as Rachel’s, Plum and Ellas. Read the ingredients lists before you buy and check for sugar content.
Give your child choice – Even young children tend to eat better when they feel a sense of ownership of their meals, and that includes ideas for their lunch boxes. Make Fridays their turn to pack their own lunch box, as long as they’ve eaten well the rest of the week. Or give them a choice between several healthy things, or let them help plan the weekly lunchbox menu.
Be a drinks detective – Fizzy drinks and flavoured waters are a source of unnecessary sugar and should be avoided. Even ready-made juices and smoothies contain concentrated sugar from fructose, not great for the teeth or afternoon energy levels. For healthier hydration, try diluting fresh juices with water or very dilute squash.
Plan a Sunday cook up – The weekends are a great time to cook some healthy lunchbox snacks with your kids to use the following week. For example, shop bought flapjacks are full of sugar from treacle and large amounts of butter. By making homemade versions you can use sugar replacements such as Agave syrup, mashed banana and a little xylitol, and pack your flapjacks with chopped nuts and seeds for added goodness and protein.
Pack the perfect crisp replacement – Seeds are a great source of essential fats, protein, vitamins and minerals… but on their own most kids won’t go near them! Toast some seeds with a little honey and soy sauce, and they make the perfect crisp replacement.
If you must have chocolate – Try to avoid giving kids chocolate every day, and make it a Friday treat. If you can stick to dark chocolate (at least 70%), it’s a great source of iron, magnesium and manganese. Use it to cover nuts or seeds, or dip a few pieces of fruit in it.
If you would like further nutritional advice or healthy lunch box and meal ideas then contact my team on 01603 631900 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org